NHS reveals the 20 most painful health conditions you can suffer from

We experience pain from our earliest days.

From crying when we graze our knees or fall from a tree, to the excruciating pain of broken bones and swollen tonsils.

It's how we learn to spot nettles and avoid hot pans, but some conditions cause pain so severe that it limits our ability to move and perform daily tasks.

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It can take a toll on our physical and mental health, particularly if left untreated.

Many of the most painful conditions are hidden, invisible to plain sight, leading to people suffering with them for years before they are diagnosed.

Below is a list of the 20 most painful and disruptive conditions, along with some symptoms that can help you spot them.

Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is the potentially fatal, sudden swelling of the pancreas, a banana-sized organ that's part of the digestive system.

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Most commonly caused by gallstones and alcohol abuse, it causes severe abdominal pain and inflammation which suddenly appear.

The dull aching pain often gets steadily worse and can travel along your back or below your left shoulder blade.

It is accompanied by fever, nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse, and tenderness of the abdomen.

Eating or drinking, especially fatty foods, may also make you feel rapidly worse.

Leaning forward or curling into a ball may help to relieve the pain, while lying flat on your back often increases it.


Appendicitis is a painful swelling of the appendix, a finger-like pouch attached to the gut wall.

Some of the first signs include sharp twinges of pain when moving or breathing deep.

Pain moving down the right side of the abdomen is the most comment symptom.

Appendicitis can lead to severe pain that gets worse in a few hours and, in severe cases, can cause the appendix to burst, which is potentially fatal.

It usually needs an urgent operation to remove the appendix before it bursts.

The condition is most common in children, who typically complain of pain in the middle of their tummy that comes and goes. The pain then shifts to the lower-right side of the stomach and gets worse.


Characterised by inflammation of the joints, arthritis causes pain and stiffness that limit mobility and worsen with age.

People with arthritis endure constant and often debilitating joint pain, usually in the hips, knees, wrists or fingers.

The pain, which feels like a dull ache or a burning sensation, can come on suddenly or over time, and is often linked with muscle aches and stiffness in the joints.

Broken bones

This is an obvious one, but a fractured ankle, hip, arm or nose is one of the most painful things you'll experience, especially when you try to move it.

Pain and inflammation caused by the break can limit movement of the affected area, which takes time to recover.

Broken bones can heal by themselves, but they may need to be lined up and fixed in position so they set properly. As a general rule, the older you are and the bigger the bone that's broken, the longer it will take to heal.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches and migraines can be debilitating

Cluster headaches are a rare form of headache known for the excruciating pain in one side of the head, often felt around the eye, and a pattern of occurring in clusters.

They are often accompanied by agitation and restlessness.

Cluster headache charity OUCH (UK) said that, although there is estimated to be around the same number of cluster headache sufferers in the UK as there are sufferers of MS, "hardly anyone" has heard of the condition and most people afflicted with this "devastating" disease are struggling with their pain alone.

The pain, lasting for hours at a time, can be so severe that it disrupts a person's daily life.

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)

Usually stemming from damage or malfunction of the nervous system, this can cause persistent, severe and debilitating pain in one limb after an injury.

While the burning pain is usually confined to one limb, it can sometimes spread to other parts of the body.

Skin of the affected body part can become so sensitive that just a slight touch, bump or even a change in temperature can provoke intense pain.

Affected areas can also become swollen, stiff or undergo fluctuating changes in colour or temperature.

Many cases of CRPS gradually improve to some degree over time. However, some cases of CRPS never go away, and the affected person will experience pain for many years.


Endometriosis is a gynaecological condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other areas of the body, most commonly in the pelvic region.

This tissue responds to hormones in the same way as the lining of the womb but, with no outlet, it can cause inflammation, scarring and adhesions, leading to severe pain and many other symptoms.

The classic symptoms of endometriosis are severe pain during or between periods; very long, heavy and irregular periods; painful bowel movements; pain in the bladder and pain during or after sex.

Extreme fatigue is very common, and fertility may also be affected.

It affects 1.5 million women in the UK, causing many to take time off work due to severe pain.

Despite the severity and prevalence of endometriosis, it is estimated to take 7.5 years to diagnose and there is no cure.

The condition is manageable and timely diagnosis could save women from many years of living in constant pain.

There is no definitive cause for endometriosis and the only conclusive way to determine if a woman has endometriosis is through a laparoscopy, usually done under general anaesthetic.


This chronic condition causes pain throughout the body, accompanied by fatigue, sleep problems, and emotional or mental distress.

Pain often comes as a diffuse aching or burning from head to toe, usually becoming more severe the most frequently used parts of the body.

Fibromyalgia usually occurs after physical trauma, psychological stress, infection or surgery.

It is linked to the brain's ability to process pain signals, which can cause the body to amplify painful sensations.

Fibromyalgia Action UK explained that the associated fatigue "ranges from feeling tired, to the exhaustion of a flu-like illness".

They said: "It may come and go and people can suddenly feel drained of all energy – as if someone just 'pulled the plug'."

Frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder includes pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint that starts gradually and worsens over time, lasting for months and even years.

Daily activities can become restricted and an ordeal.

The NHS says it means the joint can become so tight and stiff that it is virtually impossible to carry out simple movements, such as raising your arm.

It is unclear what causes frozen shoulder but it can happen after a shoulder or arm injury, and is more common in people with diabetes.


Known of for 2,000 years, gout is a form of arthritis that causes inflammation of the joints, often starting in the feet or toes, usually a joint in the big toe.

Gout develops in people with high levels of uric acid in the blood.

The acid gathers and crystallises at the joint, causing a swelling and heat with the skin sometimes becoming purplish red.

Mainly affecting men aged between 40 and 60, gout causes acute, intermittent and painful attacks of arthritis in the joints of the foot, knee, ankle, hand and wrist.

The pain is like a burning sensation in the foot.

Is can be treated with medicine or a serious change in lifestyle.

Heart attacks are a leading killer across the globe

Heart attack

One of the leading causes of death in the world, myocardial infarctions see part part of the heart deprived of oxygen-rich blood, causing cells to die.

Many heart attacks are caused when the arteries narrow and fill up with fatty materials which prevents blood from flowing properly.

Smoking and living an unhealthy lifestyle are major contributory factors in heart attacks, so regular exercise and maintaining a good diet are vital.

But some people are more prone to having them as heart disease can be hereditary.

The most common signs of a heart attack are:

Chest pain – tightness, heaviness, pain, pressure, or a crushing or burning feeling in your chest

Pain in arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach – for some people, the pain or tightness is severe, while other people just feel uncomfortable


Feeling light-headed

Becoming short of breath

Feeling nauseous or vomiting

Visit the British Heart Foundation's website for more information.

Kidney stones

Caused by a decrease in urine volume or an excess of stone-forming components in it, kidney stones might by non-symptomatic unless it moves around the kidney and passes into the tube linking the kidney to the bladder.

Passing a kidney stone can produce a sudden, sharp, cramping pain in your lower back or the side of your abdomen, or occasionally in your groin.

Lasting for minutes or hours, with pain-free intervals in between, the pain often begins in the middle of the night and can be so severe that those who experience it may feel the need to go to A&E.

Most kidney stones are small enough to pass out in your urine, and the pain disappears once the stone has been passed.


More than "just a headache", a migraine comes as a recurring attack of moderate to severe pain that pulses or throbs.

Lasting for a few hours or even days, migraines usually cause pain in one side of the head.

Symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and extreme light and sound sensitivity also accompany the pain.

The Migraine Trust explained that migraines "can have an enormous impact on your work, family and social lives", with attacks that "can be very frightening and may result in you having to lie still for several hours".

Pain after surgery

It's common to have some pain after surgery, though the intensity of the pain will vary according to the type of operation.

Too much pain after surgery is not a good thing, according to the NHS, and you should never feel you have to "tough it out".

Many conditions cause back pain, but sciatic can be so severe that you struggle to move


Sciatica is a back problem that affects the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the body running from the feet to the hips.

This condition occurs if the nerve becomes irritated or compressed in any way, for example due to pressure placed on the nerve by a slipped disc.

Radiating down the spine and leg, the pain can be moderate or severe.

It can be accompanied by tingling (like pins and needles), weakness and numbness in the affected leg, as well as cramps and shooting pain starting in the buttock region and travelling down towards the foot.

The pain can be so severe that it is impossible to put weight on the affected leg.

Sciatica can affect just about anyone, but the younger you are, the less likely it is.

Sickle cell disease

Sickle cell disease is the name for a group of inherited conditions that affect the red blood cells.

A sudden episode of pain, known as a pain crisis, is one of the most common and distressing symptoms of sickle cell disease.

The pain, which usually occurs in the bones and joints, can vary from mild to severe and last for up to seven days.

Some people may have an episode every few weeks, while others may have fewer than one a year.

Slipped disc

Also called pelvic intervertebral disc prolapse, a slipped disc can cause sudden and severe lower back pain.

The condition occurs when the soft cushion of tissue between spinal bones pushes out, which can irritate nearby nerves, resulting in pain and numbness or weakness in an arm or leg.

It is often the result of a twisting or lifting injury.

Although the pain is usually eased by lying down, it is also worse at night, often accompanied by burning, tingling, and aching sensations in affected areas.

The pain is often made worse by moving your back, coughing or sneezing.

A slipped disc can also cause leg pain.


Caused by the same virus as chicken pox, shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infection of a nerve and the skin around it which usually affects a particular area on one side of the body.

The main symptoms are a sharp, burning pain and a painful rash that develops into itchy, fluid-filled blisters which contain particles of the virus.

An attack usually lasts between two and four weeks, but 20 per cent of sufferers go on to develop nerve pain in the affected area of skin. This pain can be severe and last for several months or even longer.

Shingles can occur at any age, but is most common in people over the age of 70.

Age and a weakened immune system make people more susceptible to it.

Stomach ulcer

A stomach ulcer – or peptic ulcer as they are also known – is an open sore in the lining of your stomach or your small intestine.

It causes pain in the stomach and up to the neck, which may last briefly or for several hours.

Typically occurring when the stomach is empty or right after eating, the symptoms are often described as similar to indigestion, heartburn and bad hunger pangs, with a burning sensation or pain in the upper abdomen

Abdominal pain distinguishes a stomach ulcer from heartburn and indigestion, and it is often coupled with both bloating and abdominal fullness.

Bacteria is the cause in almost all cases of these ulcers.

The second most common cause is overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including the commonly used aspirin and ibuprofen which can irritate the stomach lining in some people.

Stress, excessive smoking and alcohol abuse can increase the risk of developing the condition.

Bad habits that many of us fall into – such as irregular meal patterns and generally eating on the move – can play a major factor.

Eating can actually ease the pain in some sufferers, but others think it makes the pain worse.

Most people find that fatty foods, citrus drinks and spicy food irritate the ulcer.

Avoiding these types of food can help to reduce the chances of a flare up.

Watch out for stomach pain as this can be a symptom of many severe illnesses

Trigeminal neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that causes sudden, severe and sporadic facial pain, akin to a burning or electric shock sensation.

Pain can affect the eyes, lips, gums, teeth, scalp, nose, upper jaw, forehead, and lower jaw.

It usually occurs in short, unpredictable attacks that can last from a few seconds to about two minutes. The attacks stop as suddenly as they start.

Trigeminal Neuralgia Association UK say that unfortunately, for most sufferers, the condition is progressive and will worsen over time, but there are a number of treatments that can give relief.